© 2020 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'We Are Part Of The Animal Kingdom': Renowned Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall Speaks in South Florida

Michael Nuegebauer
Jane Goodall Institute
Dr. Jane Goodall with orphan chimpanzee Uruhara at the Sweetwaters Sanctuary in Kenya.

In the 1950s, Jane Goodall began to travel to Kenya for a research project on chimpanzees. Her research was fundamental to understanding how chimps make and use tools, and she founded the Jane Goodall Institute to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

Now in her 80s, Goodall continues to dedicate her life to animals and the environment. She is a UN Messenger of Peace, a UNESCO Award Winner and has been the subject of numerous documentaries and feature films.

While in South Florida for an event at Florida Atlantic University, she spoke with Sundial’s Luis Hernandez about her legacy as a conservationist and some of the major environmental challenges facing our planet.

WLRN: You're speaking to an audience in South Florida that is very aware of the key environmental issues on the horizon, like sea level rise and increasingly intense hurricanes. What do you see as some of the greatest threats that we're facing? 

Goodall: It's very difficult to single some out because everything is so interrelated, like the problems you mention due to climate change. That's due mainly to the emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel burning, but also from the increased amount of meat being eaten, which means billions of animals ... [they're] now in these factory farms and they produce methane which is a very bad gas. And these so-called greenhouse gases that are circling the planet [are] trapping the heat of the sun and leading to climate change and everything that you've just mentioned.

I wanted to know where your love of chimpanzees originated. 

I was given a stuffed chimpanzee, a very large and very lifelike stuffed chimpanzee when I was one-and-a-half. And it was to commemorate the birth of the first chimpanzee infant born in the London Zoo. And I adored it. I took him everywhere until I was about, I don't know, 12, 13 something like that. My dream was to go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them. That started when I was 10 years old.

When I finally got to Africa, having saved up money working as a waitress, I couldn't get to university because we didn't have enough money and I met the late Louis Leakey. It was he who suggested chimpanzees. I would have studied any animal. But then of course, once I began to learn about the chimpanzees and their absolutely fascinating lives out in the wild, I was hooked. I mean 60 years later, me and my research team are still learning new things about the same chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park and other studies have sprung up across Africa.

What are some of the challenges that you faced in your life as a scientist, as a female scientist, trying to achieve recognition in a world that is still very male dominated?

Well, when I first went to Africa, I had no intention of even trying to be a scientist. Women weren't in those days. I just wanted to learn about animals. And luckily Dr. Leakey, who gave me my chance, he was not keen to have somebody from academia. He said the thinking was reductionist, which it was. And so when I had been two years with the chimps with having not been to college, he sent me to Cambridge University. And I was immediately told by the male scientists that I'd done everything wrong - the chimp should have had numbers not names, I couldn't talk about their personality, mind or emotion because those were unique to us.

But I had learned as a child from a terrific teacher who told me that in this respect these professors were wrong. And that [teacher] was my dog Rusty. You know you can't share your life in a meaningful way with any animal and not know we are not the only beings on the planet with personality, mind and emotion. We are part of the animal kingdom.

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.